The Bedroom Philosopher and Merchandising

Posted on 06 August 2009

Last night I had the pleasure of not only listening to the music and humour of The Bedroom Philosopher (aka Justin Heazlewood) on his Brown & Orange Album Launch Tour, I also worked as a volunteer selling merchandise for the show. Justin seems to be getting into the swing of turning his whimsical outlook on life into a supportive living.

Recently Justin has done something of a Tim Minchin. Wanting to distinguish himself from Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, he has opted to update his seventies tossled-hair and mutton chops look for something perhaps more memorable. He now appears like a 1980s David Bowie with glasses. If he starts strutting around and saying, “You remind me of the babe,” we are in big trouble.:)

I was stationed at the back of the room in order to sell the CD this tour is launching, as well as an older CD, t-shirts, and ties. He is wise to have such items for sale. I have found these are the sorts of things that give an audience a chance to extend their pleasure of the event and support the artist.

I’ve professionally published on the Web since it’s inception. I have observed in particular a number of comic strip artists finding their feet in making a living online. Accepting advertising hasn’t been terrifically successful. Sponsors have been unwilling to offer much support and their ads clutter a site and make it less interesting to view. Direct sponsorship by readers achieved through a number of means can work, depending upon the popularity of the strip. Though, even the most successful reader-supported artist is eking a living. What seems to work best is a combination of techniques that heavily includes merchandising of the strips with books, t-shirts, mugs, soft toys, etc. I have heard the same is true for musicians.

I have heard some musicians say that the bulk of their money does not come from sales through the music companies, but through touring and merchandising. Comedian Ross Noble’s reputation comes largely through word of mouth and sales of his DVD.

I know that some artists find this a bitter pill to swallow. They feel cheapend by “commercialising” themselves. Lord Byron achieved artistic freedom and “purity” solely because he was already a wealthy man when he began writing. You can be free and still allow others the opportunity to support your work. How good is a monk in a monastery when he never tests his goodness against the rigours of every day life? Artists can still choose to speak their minds and speak their truth while accepting money. Over time we will see if they have the courage of their convictions.

To me the real test is how much care is put into the products, how much service is offered to the customers, and the ethics of your sales methods. One of Justin’s things is retro ties. So for his show he put together a collection of good quality secondhand ties that were then adorned with the words “The Bedroom Philospher”. Not only were the ties charming, people could enjoy their character and help the environment through their continued use.

I enjoy flirting with customers like most people flirt with babies. There’s no pressure to buy, but it’s a lot of fun hanging out by the sales table, and people are much more likely to go, “Oh what the heck”. We did pretty well on the night. One comment that came up was that people said they could just buy their favourite songs online. Which is true, but it’s not quite as financially supportive as buying a CD, though more environmental. Justin and I spoke about his putting together a DVD of his live show. His songs are fun in and of themselves, but I have to say that his Spike Milliganish patter while performing the songs really brings them to life. It might also serve to give him that Ross Noble boost in word of mouth. Eventually, the net may scuttle this income stream as well, but for the moment it’s a good strategy.

I would suggest to all comedians wanting to make a living of their art to consider how they can merchandise their act. This will require thinking even more deeply about what you are doing as a business. You will need to do some long term planning, learn how to manage stock, bookkeeping, and accounting. If you are lucky, you may find someone who can do this for you, but most of us will have to start out by doing it for ourselves. However, I will say that it needn’t be onerous. I’ve done it, and once you get into the swing of things, even flaky artists can manage.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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